What Is Your Next Thought Going to Be?

Last Updated on Teachings

Creative Commons License credit: Derick Leony

A few days ago, I wrote about not having control over your life. So far, I would say the comments are running an even split: some agree, some think I’m off my rocker. So let’s dive into this subject a little further. Let’s talk about your thoughts.

IF you have any control over your life, then you almost surely would agree that your thoughts, your mind, your thinking plays a tremendous role in that control. Makes sense, right? To have control over my life, I must make choices. To make choices, I must think about the options. I must decide things, weigh the pros and cons, look at the possibilities.

Furthermore, there are my desires, my wishes, my intentions, my wants. As one of my favorite bloggers, Andrea from Empowered Soul said, you set an intention and then you create these things in your life (and with this part, I would agree to an extent). In a nutshell, you control the outcomes of your life with your intentions. Which, of course, are thoughts. Same with desires and wants. They are emotionally charged, to be sure, but they are thoughts nonetheless. So far, so good, right?

Okay, so if you have control over your life, that control must ultimately come from your thoughts and thinking. So, the obvious question that arises is: do you have control over your thoughts? Do you “choose” your thoughts? Do you decide what you will think?

Let me answer these questions via a dialog with my old buddy René (René Descartes that is—”I think, therefore I am.”) Let’s see what René has to say:

Tom: So, René, do you control your thoughts? Do you choose them?
René: Of course, you bone head. I’m the thinker of my thoughts. I choose what I’m going to think.
Tom: Okay, then what is your next thought going to be?
René: Um, well, I’m going to think about my dog, Pierre.
Tom: Great! So think about Pierre for a moment.
Tom: Tell me, René, is Pierre the only thing you thought about during the past few minutes?
René: Well, no, I did think about the jeune fille (woman) I saw last weekend. But I mostly spent the time thinking about Pierre.
Tom: Why did you think about your date from last weekend? Don’t you have control over what you think?
René: I don’t know. Sometimes thoughts just pop into my head. You know?
Tom: Yes, I do know. So, when I first asked you what your next thought is going to be, why did you choose to think about Pierre? What caused you to choose Pierre the dog over all the millions of things to think about?
René: I don’t know. It just popped into my head to think about the dog.
Tom: Uh, René, so how much control do you have over your own thoughts?
René: Merde! I refuse to answer that question. Smart a$$!
Tom: Je t’aime, aussi, René.

I think the point should be clear. No control over your thoughts. None. If you will spend a few moments, sitting quietly, and pay attention to your thoughts, you will notice that they just arise. Sometimes there are patterns, such as when you think about the same thing for days or months at a time. At other times thoughts arise that are completely out in left field. But arise they do. And “you” have no control over them.

Given that you have no control over your thoughts and thinking, is it that hard to imagine that you have no control over your life? Let’s save further discussion for the comments, as I know there will be plenty.

The next little essay I do will tackle the next questions to be asked, ones that I suspect you may have already guessed at: who is the “you” that would or would not have control? Who is the “thinker” of your thoughts? Who is the “you” that would possibly control your thoughts, life, actions, and mind?



  • Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

    Thanks for the kind mention, Tom! I appreciate how you always give us food for thought and inspiration for very stimulating discussion!

    I agree with you – our mind thinks us constantly! Where I make a huge distinction, though, is between intention and thought. Thoughts can be idle, fleeting. They take form that immediately dissipates – we’re always, always creating those, and they don’t have much substance. Intention, on the other hand (purely my definition, mind you, and I’m sure lots of people will poke holes into it in subsequent comments) is very deliberate. It has emotional energy behind it that gives it substance. Intention has enough energetic form to begin attracting like energies at the physical level.

    So – we observe our thoughts so that we can learn to allow them to arise and fall away, giving them no energy. And when we can do that, we also can pick and choose which thoughts to turn into intentions, to give emotional energy and substance and thus manifest consciously.

    That’s my theory, anyway. It seems to work nicely for me. :-)


  • Evan

    Your example doesn’t prove no control but some: Rene did think about Pierre.

    As to this paragraph:
    IF you have any control over your life, then you almost surely would agree that your thoughts, your mind, your thinking plays a tremendous role in that control. Makes sense, right? To have control over my life, I must make choices. To make choices, I must think about the options. I must decide things, weigh the pros and cons, look at the possibilities.

    Well, no. I think this is true sometimes (in a simplistic way). Even if all of this is untrue it doesn’t show control to be illusory.

  • Mike S

    Interesting that you have dualistically split opinions into two camps, when some agree that both paths (in fact, all paths) will lead to the same destination.

    Nevertheless, I enjoy reading and participating in the dialectical discourse of your blog since there is little of that spiritual gestapoism that many teachers seem to rely on in making there points.

    Once again, if you examine closely the concept of “no control” I think you will discern that there is a degree of control, just as there is equally as much letting go control in the seeking of greater control.

    Paradoxically, they are the same.

    However, it seems that to the ego, that aspect of mind that chooses (judges) one path over another there is a big difference. Notice your commitment to “no control.” What, but the ‘ego,’ could be so deeply committed? Of course, you can deflect the same concept back to those committed to control.

    Your choice of “Rene” as subject for your experiment seems a little disingenuous since his “Meditations on First Philosophy” exemplifies sustained, concentrated focus and intense cause and effect thinking. Although much has been refuted, many consider Descartes meditations (thought) into dualism to be the precursor of the modern age and the founder of the scientific method. Too bad your Rene has so little control of his power of concentration and I would suggest you choose a more committed subject for future experiments. LOL.

    You seem intensely focused on the abstract concept of “thought,” but possibly fail to account for ‘belief’ or even ‘will.’ I think Andrea’s “intention” may cover this aspect of your experience. In your previous essay you write: “In this presence or awareness. Being still, resting in reality, feels like the ultimate answer.” So how do you account for the emotion or ‘feeling’ your path seems to provide?

    If “one thought of separation” leads to suffering, why would not one thought of Oneness, founded on deep and passionate belief and infused with sustained emotion, lift us to a point where control is no longer necessary because the “you” of belief merges with the infinite “you” of Oneness?

    To me the point is clear, control is the surrendering of control as much as no control is essentially controlled. But, NO! the ego demands, it must be one or the other and thus we remain stuck in dualism.

    Good Stuff!

    mike S

  • Tom Stine

    Let’s see if I can get a few replies in before you all get crazy on me!! :-D

    @Andrea I would agree that there is a distinction (seemingly) between an intention and a thought. When you get a real intention cooking, it seems to have some power and energy behind it. Intentions would appear to be quite creative in the world around us. No argument there.

    But here’s where I’ve got to ask the question: where do your intentions come from? Let’s use an example: you set an intention to increase the number of clients in your business. Great. But at the moment that the idea came to you to set an intention about your business, where did that arise from? How did YOU decide to set that intention? Did the intention not arise out of nowhere? And even more problematic, who is the YOU that set the intention?

    See, that’s the rub. Here’s where the whole enchilada breaks down. More on this score in the next essay. :-D Love the comments, Andrea. You’ve really got me cooking on intention, by the way.

    @Evan I will agree that this essay isn’t a definitive “proof” that there is no control. But if you think you have control over your life, it is a definite blow to that assumption. IF you have control, it is obviously very little.

    @Mike Ah, the minute we use words, we are clearly in duality, are we not? But what fun to play around with duality as long as one realizes that duality isn’t inherently meaningful.

    First, let me say that I’m glad you do see any spiritual gestapoism in my blog!! You know, in point of fact, I’m not very attached to the words I say, if attached at all. As the Zen dudes love to say, at best my words are fingers pointing at the moon. AT BEST. At worst, well, they are crap. Pure and simple. All I try to do is relate my experience and what words or ideas arise in me. Nothing more than that.

    Second, let me address one interesting question in your comment: the distinction between thought, belief, feeling, etc. Here’s a working definition for you. Thought is an energy that arises in the “mind” (whatever that is) and then fades away if left alone. However, if consciousness turns toward it and becomes interested in it, then we get some more energy behind it, and if believed, then we have a belief. Intention, well, it would just seem to be some energetically juice thoughts that have some attention behind them. Lastly, feelings seem to me to be an experience of thought via the more physical body/mind. We “feel” our feelings via our senses. We experience them.

    So, a thought arises. If I get interested in it, then it produces results. Good or bad. Heaven or hell. As Adya likes to paraphrase: “one thought believed separates heaven from hell.”

  • Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

    I just love those questions, Tom!

    To me, there’s no breakdown at all – because inspiration, ideas, the impetus for those intentions – they come from the Soul. But you don’t believe we have/are a Soul … so hence the breakdown.

    To me, the Soul is the beginning of the illusion of separation – how the Divine experiences itself by creating something that it is seemingly not. That Soul then acts as the Divine in its creativity and self-expression – so that the Whole can experience itself.

    That’s how I see that whole Oneness/separation conundrum. If your foot is getting a massage, the whole body feels pleasure. But if the whole body were getting a massage in all places all at once, it would not even notice. Separation allows the Whole to partake of an experience. The Soul allows the Divine to experience its own creativity. To me, the Soul is the creative force that shapes our lives.


  • Tom Stine

    @Andrea You know, in a certain sense, we really do agree quite well. But you are right, it is this soul thing. If only I had a soul! *laughs* Too bad I was born without one. ;-) Seriously, I would agree that there “appears” to be what we can call a soul. But is it real? Is it meaningful? Does it matter? To be honest, I have no idea! Although I rarely drink, this seems to me to be one of those “grab a beer, pull up a chair, and talk it out for a few hours” kind of things. Ultimately, not a big deal. Personally, kind of fun. And, I will concede, possibly relevant for many people. But the key for me is that in my experience, I do not find a soul or anything like one. When I look within, I find a glorious, formless, vast emptiness, stretching to “infinity.” But no individual anything.

  • Davidya

    I’ve found it useful to ‘categorize’ thoughts a bit. There is the general noise, processing and emotionally generated agitation that kind of spins in itself. That’s the main stuff that passes with peace.
    There is response thoughts that simply arise as reactions. This is the broader field of action playing in the mind.
    And there is stuff that simply arises more deeply, the ideas, intuitions, and drivers that are more ‘pure’, if you will. Of course, these are arbitrary divisions but it helps get clear on what is worth paying attention to.

    To me, the post, plus Andrea’s comment on intention reveals the deeper question – who thinks? From whence do the thoughts arise? (as Tom suggests) This is easier to explore if you step under the noise and field of play.

    The answer changes as your consciousness expands. But the answer is also not always the same thing. As the above suggests some thoughts arise in mind alone, some simply reactive. It is only the third type that will take you to the question of controller.

    Its also useful to think of the mind as a field which reacts to impressions with thoughts. Emotions are another more gross field that interacts with thoughts and itself in a similar way. Intuition and deeper ‘thought’ values arise in more subtle values of ‘mind’.

    For myself, the sense of individuation arises in ego and identity. Soul I use for the increment of wholeness the arises to express this form. Without the masks of separation, it is the divine in us.

  • Davidya

    Actually, if we consider the mind and emotions a field responding to impressions, what need is there for a controller?

    This also leads to another value you may have even more fun with, that Tom touches on in the last few words. Who is the doer? If your actions arise from thought, who controls your actions. ;-)

    Looking forward to Tom’s next missive.

  • Tom Stine

    @Davidya You do a great job of ‘splainin things. I can’t say I agree or disagree, but I find that as I read what you say I find a resonance in them. I feel something deep responding. That’s the best one can hope for, in my book.

    I’m glad you provided the word missive to describe these essays. I think that pretty much sums up all writing: MISS-ives. All are missing the mark in some way. But oh what fun!! :-D

  • Evan

    Hi Tom,

    You say, “Seriously, I would agree that there “appears” to be what we can call a soul. But is it real? Is it meaningful? Does it matter? To be honest, I have no idea!”

    and then, “But the key for me is that in my experience, I do not find a soul or anything like one.”

    The real is firstly beyond experience/appearance and then you seem to say that experience is the real. At the least that there is a division in experience – appearance and reality. This seems fatal to any strict monism. Unless of course our concept of the one embraces organisms – one dog contains many parts yet is one dog.

  • Mike S


    You say, “So, a thought arises. If I get interested in it, then it produces results. Good or bad. Heaven or hell.”

    What if I intentionally construct a thought? (which we can do simply through force of will). And if I hold and nurture that thought through intent, or as you say, “interest,” it produces results such as altering belief which becomes springboard to further intentional thought, which then may generate additional thought patterns thereby altering belief, etc, etc, and on up the ladder of evolving consciousness we go.

    Now I am at a level of consciousness in which I can adequately interpret satori or heightened “states” of consciousness and I may, in fact, initiate such states intentionally, eventually leading to an enlightened state altogether (but the ‘I’ that is identified with cannot choose enlightenment since the ‘I’ ends). But note that, whether I (ego) choose a path of surrendering control of thought, simply allowing it to arise by detaching from control, or asserting control of thought and generating intentional thought/belief, the results are the same.

    However, I’ll even use your conceptual descriptors. In your CHOICE (ego?) of surrendering control, who is it that has chosen “no control”? Looks like that “enchilada” breaks down just as easily.

    Thanks :)
    mike S

  • Davidya

    Mike S
    If I may make a point, you can play all you want in the field of thought, altering beliefs, creating new realities, and so forth. That may improve the quality of your life and it may prepare you for higher states. But it has nothing to do with evolving consciousness itself. That takes place under/before/outside of mind. Only awareness evolves awareness.

    One cannot control thoughts as they don’t originate with us. We can with our attention and intention give direction to a thought. Emphasize an idea.
    We can also work at controlling the mind, thus controlling what it receives (thoughts). But this tends to encourage resistance, for obvious reasons. Much easier is to surrender control.

    Adyashanti used control but he doesn’t recommend it (laughs)

    Perhaps its worth observing closer how you trigger those heightened states. Is it control? Or is it with attention and allowing? Your experience may be different but that’s what works for me. Any attempt to control just shrinks the experience.

  • Mike S

    Ah, But is not your “attention and allowing” the same “play” in the “field of thought” as creating new realities by altering beliefs?

    However, it seems we only engage in semantical hairsplitting as you say “attention and allowing” is NOT control and I say it is exactly that. There is as much an aspect of ‘doing’ in your surrender of control as in my seeking control. Both demand a doer, or a not doer, which does NOT exist.

    Nevertheless, which ever path you choose one thing is certain, there will be greater conscious awareness of thinking patterns and this can only be a good thing for everyone and the world as a whole, since we will no longer rely on ‘default’ thinking and the deleterious results of that in our shared worldspace.

    Thanks :)
    mike S

  • Davidya

    hmmm – yes, semantics.

    Perhaps it might be useful to touch on the values of mind or fields of thought. I spoke above a little about thought categories, as they related to the person.

    There’s another way of looking at this. Mind comes in various values of localization or density. What most of us think of as mind is our own mind, the ‘individual’ mind. But this is just a localized value, a focus one could say of a larger field. Sheldrake has done some research on this, demonstrating less localized ‘group’ minds such as family and social, associated by attention.
    (some noise value and some of the play of action arise here)

    Any time someone talks about some sort of group consciousness, like a cities or countries, they are often referring to the mind value of that awareness, the common thought forms of the group. When we say we are American or Nipponese, we are associating ourselvs with that mind value and its thought forms. And we experience some commonality. (mostly the play of action, noise accumulates as group stress which may express in violence, bad weather, stupid politics, etc – group suffering, hence further value of finding peace within)

    More broadly is what one might call universal or cosmic mind. The thought form of our universe and all beings in it. More broadly still is what we might call divine mind, the field of creation. All of what one might call creations or dreams of God arise here. Within ours, all the universes. (Yep – it’s a LOT bigger than a universe)

    These layers of personal, universal, and divine are also the layers of Maya, the illusion or dream. As we progress through expanded states of awareness, we progressively wake from these dreams. That’s why we call it awakening.

    To your point, allowing of the person is indeed controlling of a higher value. But as we step up through that, we are shifting into progressively higher values of mind until we transcend mind all together. We do perceive new values of reality that may lead to new beliefs, yes.

    So you are right, but this is an intellectual concept. If we instead look at the actual experience, it is of allowing rather than being the doer. When we favour that experience, we shift upwards. If we stay with concepts of doership, we don’t. Make sense?

    Its not necessary to believe any of this layers crap but it does provide a framework that can satisfy the mind and thus get it out of the way. As well, some people experience this stuff so it can help integrate by putting it in context.

    Tom’s current series is certainly creating some interesting discussion.

  • Davidya

    BTW – the reason I say “layers crap” comes right back to the point of Tom’s post. Each of us has a story about the world. We remind ourselves about this story and look for things to confirm it all the time. It is the package of our beliefs.

    As Ruiz says, i’m telling you my story. Don’t believe it. But see if there is anything of value there for you.

    The trick here is to recognize that its just a story, your dream of the world. You can edit the story all you like, but if you don’t see that it’s a story, the story will control you rather than you the story. It is only a story that says we control anything.

    Letting go of the idea of control is stepping out of the box of your story. Its a much bigger and more fun place than some ratty old novel. And a lot easier to edit if we’re not inside it.

  • TP


    I stumbled upon this website recently. This debate resonates with what I am facing in my life right now i.e. finding the balance between a material life (ie. implies a “me” who has desires/ aspirations/family) and spiritual life (me as the witnessing presence or pure awareness).

    Can each of the group memebers please share their views/perspectives on how you deal with this? Its the same debate as above, but looked at it from a slightly different perspective which I am sure many seekers face in their path.

    I have moved from being very materially focused and successful person to one that is increasingly questioning the “who/what” of me and (atleast tries to be) the witnessing presence 24×7 (which I find is the essential common teaching/practise of Ramana/Adyashanti/ Poonjaji/Sedona/Kriya Yoga/Osho/Buddha etc). However, at times I do feel that I am not being my best at a material level and question whether I am not fully doing my duties to my job/family by taking the focus away from material success.

    I would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks a lot!



  • gregorylent

    two schools .. you can create your thoughts, you cannot … one is western, one eastern … in the middle, reality …

  • Tom Stine

    @TP Thanks for the comments and questions. It is an interesting journey we take, and knowing what we are to do in the world can often be difficult to discern. I’ve found that the simplest thing to do is always ask yourself: “What’s the next most obvious thing I should do?” I find that this one question will snap me right into the grove of my life. Sometimes the answer is so obvious as to be ridiculous: “get up and fix dinner for me and the kiddo.” Other times, when it “seems” like I should be doing something, the answer again is clear: “sit, be still, let it pass.” I’ve found that by doing this simple process that 90% of what I think I need to do I don’t need to do, and the remaining 10% gets the job done quite well.

    Give it a try. Thanks for leaving your comments and questions. Namaste.

    @gregorylent Ah, nice point. However, I want to be clear. The “you” that I refer to is the false identity, the “you” that we are not. That is what is shown to have no control, as it is merely a thought, too. What is in a certain sense “in control” isn’t what I would really call control. It just is, and then it comes into being as.

  • Davidya

    TP – There is a Sanskrit saying “Yogasta Kuru Karmani”, established in Being, perform action. In other words, step into the presence, then go forward into the world. You will not establish that awareness in life unless you “bleach” it in in the world of activity. It will naturally come and go. Don’t try to hold it – it cannot be held.

    Naturally, you will find some desires fall away. But obligations to family should not be shunned. Responsibilities must be met. Activity is not a barrier to awakening – indeed it is the fulfillment of its expression.

    Perhaps it would be useful to think of it more deeply. Activity is not other, it occurs ‘within’ awareness. Any conflict is an illusion.

  • Shamelle-TheEnhanceLife

    I think we all have that voice inside of us…
    Maybe it tells you that you’re not good enough; that there’s no way you’re going to be able to accomplish your goals; or maybe it simply second guesses every decision or action you try to make.

  • Tom Stine

    @Shamelle Thanks for the comment. The voice of the mind can be insidious, yes? It chatters away all the time.

  • Davina

    Hi Tom. I just found your blog yesterday. This is a fabulous discussion. I was about to say YES I agree, we can’t truly control our thoughts, until I read through all the comments. I’m still leaning in that direction, but am considering both options now.

    Thoughts and ideas have been dropping “into” me like crazy lately and I know I haven’t created them. Who knows where they come from? What I do believe is that I have control over what I do with those thoughts.

  • Eric

    @TP Before enlightenment go to work, pay mortgage; after enlightenment go to work, pay mortgage. (An old Zen saying i just made up.)

    Peace to All

  • Tom Stine

    @Davina Glad to have you as a reader. And even better to have you join the discussion. I know what you mean about thoughts dropping in like crazy. They just arise, don’t they? But I do have two questions for you:

    1. Who is the “you” that has control over what you do with those thoughts?
    2. Are you sure you have control over what you do with those thoughts? Isn’t “I have control over what I do with my thoughts” just another thought? And did that not arise spontaneously? And the thought “I will act upon this thought but not that thought,” did that not just arise? And so on. :-)

    @Eric Perfect adaptation of an old Zen saying to current times. And that gives me an idea…… :-)

  • Stephen Hopson

    I enjoyed reading the dialogue you had with Rene about her thoughts of the dog and her date from the previous weekend.

    It’s very interesting to note how we are not always in control of our thoughts, which makes it even more compelling. What exactly causes our thoughts to pop up?

    What I find interesting is that no matter how hard we might try to stay focused on one thing (the dog for example), other thoughts easily pop up. The question is how and why?

    Fascinating stuff. The brain is one hellva organ that still needs to be understood more. I think it’ll forever remain a mystery.

  • Davidya

    If you want to understand where thoughts come from, the first thing you have to put aside is the idea that they arise in the brain. The brain produces some system feedback but none of what you would call ‘thoughts’.
    Your last sentence is correct – the thinking mind will never understand itself. You will only understand the mind by stepping back into who you are.

  • Davina

    Yikes! Get me off this merry-go-round. You know what? I don’t know the answer. Notta. Nope. I’ll just sit here and enjoy the trip. :-)

  • gregorylent

    who am i, and what are thoughts? how to breathe, and what to eat? man, we don’t know anything!! lol

    enjoy, gregory

  • Tom Stine

    gregory You hit the nail on the head! We don’t know. Better to just get clear on that one and then love life. The mind is a most useless thing with regard to discovering joy, peace, love and happiness. It is good for working iPhone’s and building bridges. But peace and joy? Fuggedaboutit!

  • Davidya

    Well put, Tom

  • Slade | Shift Your Spirits


    This is an excellent post. In many ways, I feel a distinction between thoughts and intentions much the way Andrea describes. Thought is something I observe, like leaves floating down a stream… I pay attention to the stream and I don’t always choose to “pick up” any particular thought. Sometimes there are thoughts which get stuck in eddies and spin, but even then, the question of “control” is more about my response to observing or engaging with them. Some I choose to pick up, some I help along… and I’m always vigilant about not identifying them with Me. They don’t always originate with me.

    Intentions I choose very willfully. I create them. I may choose to also collect a thought that floats by that may be useful to consider in association with my intentions.

    The idea of “control” is usually spent more on my behavior and my reactions. I am often choosing to release thoughts, more than anything…


  • Tom Stine

    @Slade While there does seem to be something to “intention” given that intentions seem to have some power and creativity in the world. However, I still can’t say that I “choose” an intention. They seem to arise. And for that matter, who is the chooser? That’s the real stumper!!

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